10 Ways to Make a Bad Skin Day Better (Or, Acne Psychology 101)

Breakouts suck.

There’s no two ways about it. If you get pimples, you’ve probably at some point felt ugly, shy, embarrassed, dirty, or like you want to put a paper bag over your head and cry. So you read acne advice from “experts” and it makes you want to scream because it’s always the same, none of it works, the products are expensive, and they’re loaded with toxic chemicals. But this list isn’t about how to banish breakouts. (You can read that one here.) Instead, it’s about acne psychology, which is way, way worse than pimples—trust. Here are my 10 tips for getting over a bad skin day. I can’t wait to read yours, in the comments.

Know that the good ones don’t notice. And if they notice, they don’t care. If you’ve ever had a very nice boyfriend or girlfriend, you know this one is true: Literally no one cares about your pimples except you…and really mean people. One time, I was writing a profile of a famous musician who looks in person, and without makeup, like an airbrushed photograph. We were driving around in her car and she saw a friend of hers on the street so she pulled over and rolled down the window. Her friend, smiling, said, “Hi! Welcome back. It’s so nice to see you!” or something to that effect. So what did the famous lady say? Did she say “Thanks, hon, it’s great to see you too! Wanna get a slice of pizza and catch up?”? No. The famous person said “Your face is a mess! What have you been doing?!” Her friend’s face fell. And so did mine. You maybe think I’m making this up because no one would ever speak to another person like that, right? Especially not a rich and famous and genetically blessed person, right? Right! Except I didn’t make it up. Moral of the story: That person is really mean and the reason it sounds implausible is that most people are not like this. Most people, and you’ll just have to take my word for it, do not notice your pimples, and if they do notice them, they don’t care.

Wear red lipstick. You know when someone says “Look over there!” and then steals one of your fries? This is like that, but on your face. By drawing attention to your mouth with a bright color, you are drawing attention away from whatever it is you wish wasn’t there. Also, red lipstick is a mood booster and it makes you feel bold—which is a great way to counter the “I want to cancel my dinner plans and hide” feeling.

Do your hair. This morning I woke up with an unfortunately placed spot and even though it’s raining—I usually skip doing my ‘do on rainy days—I made sure to get my hair extra smooth. The logic? When you’re broken out, it’s hard to feel pulled together even though, remember: you still probably LOOK pulled together because no one can tell by looking at you that inside you feel like a teenager. But when your hair is done nicely, you all of a sudden don’t care about the constellation on your chin. This is a time-tested coping strategy. Work it.

Smile at strangers. A friend once said that when her skin is spotty, she finds herself staring at her feet in public because doing so makes her feel invisible. It’s such a sad sentiment and I’ve totally been there: The psychological toll of breakouts is literally 95% of it, and it’s awful. To counter this feeling, try doing the opposite and then some: Hold your head up and smile. Seriously. Don’t be the crazy person on the train about it, but a gentle smile is disarming, pretty, and it makes you feel better, too.

Don’t wear a scarf. I used to do this a lot: Pashmina doublewrapped around my neck, even in the summer. Except here’s the thing: Scarfs may make you feel protected because you’re essentially swaddling yourself, but they do not hide what is on your face. And in fact, by wrapping the area around your face, you are more likely drawing attention to it as opposed to away from it. Also, maybe it’s dirty and giving you pimples.

Point it out to a friend. Don’t do this with the mean chick I told you about, but pointing out your zits actually erases the terror that the pimple-afflicted feel which is: DO THEY SEE IT? ARE THEY STARING AT IT? Again, no, they’re not. But by pointing it out, you’re taking out the paranoid guesswork, and probably your friend will say something nice like “Aww, I hadn’t noticed,” or “I’ve been trying this green tea clay and I feel like it might work—do you want some?” or simply “You look so pretty, don’t be silly.”

Cover the damn thing. People say pimples heal faster when you leave them alone and don’t wear makeup, and people say that covering zits only makes them look worse, and that all may very well be true, but if a little makeup, even terribly applied (but with a clean brush), will make you feel better mentally, then do it. Just be sure you aren’t compounding the problem with something irritating.

Pronounce vulnerable with a W. OK this one is weird but hear me out: Breakouts make us feel vulnerable. To counter this, try this thing that my yoga teacher Matt said once in class: When you’re vulnerable—awful feeling, am I right? But such a rich one, too!—your feelings are the most serious, enormous, important things in the whole wide world. Take away their power by pronouncing that word, out loud, with a W. Seriously. Next time you look in the mirror and feel bashful, say it. I promise it works.

Visualize it shrinking. Another weird one. I can’t promise this will make your swelling subside, but it sure feels good: Before bed or in the bathroom at work, close your eyes and literally imagine the zit disappearing. You’ll feel like you’re doing something healing for yourself, and that’s a good feeling to have, zits or not.

Touch your face. Just kidding, but hold on: how-to-get-rid-of-breakout stories are always telling you not to touch your face and not to pick and not to do this, that and the third. Here’s the truth: If you have a zit on your face, you’re going to do anything you think will work to make it go away. For some of you that means picking, and it sometimes means touching. Yes, it might make it worse, and yes you might scar, but it also might make you feel better, because it seems somehow more proactive than doing nothing. So go ahead and touch your face (just be sure to put some kind of natural antibacterial on it before bed, please).

Now it’s your turn. Do you have bad skin days? Have you tried any of these things? What are your tips?

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40 Responses to “10 Ways to Make a Bad Skin Day Better (Or, Acne Psychology 101)”
  1. ann says:

    Nice list! I’m still in high school, but luckily, I’ve been pretty blessed with good skin genes (thanks mom!). But for some weird reason, my spots don’t get worse when II wear makeup! It actually seems to get better – weird.. Maybe I’m imaging things, but oh well.

    Love your website (I always seem to like the photos you have on your blog posts)! I’m slowly switching up my products to natural ones – exciting! (:

  2. candace says:

    i love this list! especially the last item of not touching your face. I suffer from hyperpigmentation whenever I start going to town on my pimples. It just makes it worse because when the pimples are gone, I’m left with a dark brown spot that sticks around for what seems like FOREVER. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Sarah says:

    I’ll have to try some of these! Recently I went off the pill and my skin has gone haywire! Which is actually the reason I went on it in the first place. My skin just feels like a mask I’m dying to take off – like it isn’t even mine anymore.

    It’s true about hair! I always make sure my hair looks nice so it takes some focus off my face, makes me feel more in control of my appearance and also put together. I do cover it up with make-up (a greener kind I switched to recently because of your book!), but red lipstick always seems (to me) like it’s drawing attention to my acne – like all the red on my face stands out that much more.
    Sigh. Someday the skin gods will smile upon me! In the meantime, I’ll keep my head up!

  4. Rebecca says:

    If I’m eating well I have fewer skin problems, but my shifting hormones will inevitably bring on some bad skin days. I’ll wear my hair in a way that generally looks good and helps cover the offending pimple (if it’s on my forehead or outer cheeks). Or an adorable hat covers a forehead breakout nicely (can’t do that at work though). And I cover the heck out of it with mineral makeup. This actually works really well, and if the pimple isn’t too gigantic the minerals may completely obscure it. At least it will tone down the redness and make it seem less like a blinking sign on my face. My Alima minerals do seem to actually help heal too. And if I’m wearing clothes and shoes I love, it helps me feel better about not having a perfect complexion.

  5. Breeza says:

    I’m with you Sarah. My skin is sort of calming down due to meds, but I’m easing off of those and trying to avoid the pill…again!

  6. QuiteLight says:

    I have some odd skin condition (3 doctors, 3 different diagnoses, all wrong) that looks like a red rash of tiny zits when it flares up. Zit creams, even the good ones that worked for me on ZITS, made it worse. Worse, if it got too irritated, some would get infected and BECOME zits. It gets super dry, so makeup often just flakes off within hours.

    My psychological treatment was to groom myself extra carefully, with extra attention on my eye makeup. It makes my eyes jump to my own eyes in the mirror, so I wouldn’t fixate on the rash. It caught other people’s eyes too, I think.

    Oh, and it seems like the chemicals in all the “gentle” products people recommended to me were what was aggravating the rash….

  7. Kris says:

    Argh I haaaaaate pimples! And I totally feel you on this list!
    I’ve never suffered from large amounts of acne, but I occasionally get one or 2 terrible ones on my chin that just don’t want to go away…
    Red lipstick is definitely a good one, and I ALWAYS have to wear make-up over mine when I get them – there’s no way in hell I would go bare-faced with a red mountain on my face! :)

  8. Sush says:

    Ha! The last one cracked me up! I’m of Indian descent and when I pronounce vulnerable with a “W”, it just sounds normal and “fine” because a lot of Indian people switch up their “v” and “w’s.” Great list though! So excited to have found this site–I love it!

  9. Where were you last week? (Oh, right–LA. :) But good advice for the next breakout!

  10. Rachel says:


    Have you looked into perioral dermatitis? My friend had similar symptoms for three years! We researched it together and she stopped using steroid creams she had been using on and off (which were unfortunately masking the symptoms slightly but actually aggravating the problem!) She uses natural skincare now and some calendula cream as a treatment for the inflammation and it is totally gone!!

    It’s worth a try! Some people have also said cider vinegar works pretty well too!

  11. Christine says:

    I love this! It is so true – 95% of the out break damage is emotional.

    I have struggled with acne for like 10 years, BUT my skin is much better now thanks to… Head & Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo. I know, it sounds bizarre, but when I was going through a particularly rough time with acne my friend recommended I wash my face with the shampoo as it’d worked for here. Now I swear by it. Seriously. Try it!

  12. Suzanne says:

    I also suffered with Perioral Derm. for years, and totally agree with Rachel. When I was 14 I noticed tiny little pimply rash areas on my face and, not being aware, went to the dermatologist and was perscribed steroid creams(terrible stuff that damages your skin in the long run). Fortunately, two years ago I was taken off the steroid and put on another acne med. and as of a year and a half ago, I’m completely med, free. Honestly, going completely natural with cosmetics and ridding yourself entirely of sulfates, petroleum products and probably fluorides should help to knock out the problem. Since I didn’t go straight form steroids to nothing, I didn’t have any real outbreak after stopping the use of topical meds, but if you have been using steroids, or possibly harsh acne treatments(?), it very well could get worse at first. I’ve heard of people using apple cider vinegar, violet extract(which I used for about a month to sooth any possible inflammation) and tea tree. Although, if Perioral Dermatitis is what you have the best thing I could think to do, other than going natural with your products, is to just let your skin breathe while getting off of the medications and to not use any moisturizers, makeup, soap, etc. until the problem is cleared. Certainly, you can use the acv, extracts, calendula, or whatever you find best for your skin while trying to clear the problem. I’ll be 19 in a few weeks and have been completely Perioral Derm. free for over a year now! Granted, my skin’s still sensitive, but just keeping away from nasty chemicals seems to keep my skin happy.

    I hope this was of some help to you. And if Perioral Dermatitis is not what you’re suffering with, I hope you are able to find out what really is the matter. Best of luck!

    *What a great post! I totally agree with the smiling:)

  13. Karla says:

    Tea tree oil is amazing.

  14. Maya says:

    Thank you so much for this list. I really enjoyed reading it and it made me feel like I am not alone in the struggle for better skin. This made my day!

  15. D. says:

    WIsh I had #1 to read over and over again when I was 15 and dying of embarrassment because of my skin troubles. Now it’s 20 years later and I still suffer from break outs. Having tried every product out there and visiting dermatologists regularly with minimal success, FINALLY I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. And after getting on a regimen of medications to stabilize my hormones, for the first time since puberty I now enjoy blemish-free skin. My point being, sometimes a pimple might be more than a pimple. I’d like to spare you all the years of suffering I went through. So, women out there who have chronic break outs, especially along the jaw line, do some research and ask your doctor about PCOS!!

  16. anonomous says:

    im 16 and i’ve suffered from acne for about a year now. At first it was really depressing but now i’m just dealing with it and acne effects no one but yourself so its all about how you deal with it. if you keep thinking about you ‘ll just get more depressed. My mom said she had terrible acne at 16 and by 18 it started to calm down. That was great news because I think the greatest fear of it all is that it won’t go away but hellooo, IT WILL. Just needs time and the more you think about the slower the time flies. I asked my mom if it ever effected her mentally. All she said was i was only focused on studying at that time ;) I guess the media makes you feel worse about your insecurities these days. i swear I will never buy a product from another company who’s message is \clear skin is everything and without it you don’t have a life\ and make you feel like shit. as for that musician, I guess acne makes you a better, modest and thoughtful person ;) AND IT WILL GO AWAY

  17. AdeleLover says:

    Hey people, I’m 10. Yet, I just got these weird pimples right beside a 4 monthold scar I got from a dog bite. Two pimples, one huge one close, REALLY close to my lip, and the other one just centimeters away, but smaller. My brother has a history of skin diseases, staff to herpes, but I don’t think he’s ever had acne or pimples. (he’s 8 years older than me)

  18. Carlos1985 says:

    Im 14 and my skin is about average when it comes to pimples. A few months ago i tried proactiv and it seemed to work but it would rip off a layer of skin to remove the acne. So now im using clean and clear, and its working but after about a week i started noticing dry skin so i then tried to put Jergens lotion on it and it went away , but now i have bad breakouts every so often and some days my skin looks great :/

  19. F Marie says:

    Siobhan – Thank You :) & although I’ve never met/seen you, you are a beautiful person in my eyes! Love the bag over head & 5 of your suggestions. For me, just ‘do it’ / going out vs hidding, proves to be the most fun. And, whether it’s a hat, darker lighting, sunglasses, make up (of course), pale lips – interesting jewely, fun clothes, that when I add great music, healthy foods, moving (exercise, dancing, even cleaning) I am able to go! And, when I am out – I consistantly find that enjoying where I am, what I am doing, why I am there & how I care …. And most importantly, WHO; Who I am with, Who invited me, Who I meet, Who is helping & Who I za
    Hpjnvg- contributes to Who I Am! People, like u – make who I am, better :)

  20. Charla Raye says:

    I had a problems with my skin ranging from breakouts to mild-moderate acne for about 9 months, until about 8 months ago. I use a simple cleanser from Made from Earth (the Grapefruit Glycolic Wash) about twice a week. NO BREAKOUTS! I have beautiful skin now. Tip: The more water you drink, the more you flush toxins and hydrate your skin from the inside out, helping with cell turnover and less sebum oil. Eating better also helps ;)

  21. jennifer says:

    i am breaking out like a bitch i hate my life because of it, does anybody have any really good and fast acting low priced remedies or skin products?

  22. Jac says:

    I have horrible acne(well, had kinda) even though I just turned 13. I started taking new medicine(one in the morning and one at night) and then I take a pill in the morning and at night and it seems to work pretty well. As I get a little older it seems like its disappearing(doesn’t make much sense to me since when my friends get horrible acne I’ll have practically flawless skin)… I never thought about pointing it out, mostly because my friends with PERFECT skin are always complaining and looking in the mirror and picking at nothing. Very annoying, but maybe now I’ll be more understanding… Maybe…

  23. Cristallll says:

    :D Got to say im easy for a smile, this artical brought out a few of those. Even laughed a little at how silly we can be about acne. Ive had it since i was 9 nd now im 17. Its ben a lonq tormenting time, not gona lie :( but you know what? ive tried Plenty of products.
    Some tht have dried my face
    And some tht over oil my face
    chemicals after chemicals..
    Each nd every une of us is beautifully different.
    Lets smile a little more
    Laugh a little more
    To worry a little less
    Keep around the ppl tht yu enjoy being around the most
    Nd Try yur best to stae awae from the grouches.

    Something to try is “Say Yes To Carrots”
    Say Hello to Natural Helpful ache fighters
    Its affordable

    Harsh chemical free, nothing but pure fruits nd veggies.
    Im not asking you to eat them
    Im asking you to try them wl me :*

    Just a girl named Cristal :*

  24. Nancy says:

    I honestly hate my zits no matter what I do they keep coming back BIGGER :(
    I don’t think this works out for me:(

  25. Erica says:

    Thanks for your post. I think sometimes you just gotta figure out how to cope with it. I’m no spring chicken. Well i have acne and moles since the age of 10. Now i’m 36. Never ever had clear skin and some years i was less focused on it. But now that’s all i think about. Im always thinking people are thinking awww what sad/messed up face she has even a kid said my face was yucky. I think it is too and try my best to see past the acne,some days i prefer to stay home. What i notice is certain colors i wear softens the look of the acne and some make it stand out. Its really hard t feel put together because my acne makes me look ragedy. But i pray for a cure… but i enjoyed reading the positive comments…thanks

  26. Pal says:

    I have really pretty eyes ( i don’t mean to brag) but they are light brown and my eyelashes are huge ( i don’t even put mascara or eyeliner on .. they’re just naturally like that) … I also have super light skin but i have acne too ( it’s moderate) .. do you think that guys ( .. my crush) wont notice the acne because of my eyes ? .. and my eyes are pretty big as well.

  27. patryk says:

    Hey guys, if you want to get rid of acne in a way that’s finally gonna work than I have a solution for you :) everybody knows that aloe is great for all skin problems especially acne! So I think you guys should just try some aloe products for acne from this site http://www.aloetreatment.myflpbiz.com I have already helped a lot of people with these products so why don’t you give it a try. You can also contact me if would like for some advice on what products to chose ( I have some pretty good tricks) just e-mail me, I will be glad to help and good luck:)
    my e-mail: patryk1122@spoko.pl

  28. It’s really good thigs for skin maintining, i have also facing this problem

  29. whitney says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. Made me feel a lot better.
    A tip my mom gave me one day when I was crying over my acne really helped. She reminded me that I have it better than a lot of people. Would I rather have acne or no legs? Would I rather have some pimples or be mentally disabled? I could be living on the streets. I could be starving. So be thankful for what you have. Acne is nothing compared to what people have been through. Think of it as a mere bump in the road. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And ask yourself those questions when you’re really feeling bad about your skin. It helps.

  30. aysha says:

    this is really encouraging since i have been treating my pimples but no any improvement for the last whole year am tired and am not gona treat them any more.

  31. Defiler says:

    I can’t believe people still believe that this shit is making them happy. To me it’s an article that helps you self-comfort your flaws by pretending they don’t exist, then just settle with being happy about those kind (in reality sympathetic) remarks you hear.

    The truth is, there are more people on earth that don’t give a shit about these things even those afflicted themselves because people have learned to look past these things.

  32. Georgia says:

    I would just like to say that it is always good to make sure your hair isn’t covering your face for example fringe. I look horrible with a side fringe so I only have one on weekend when I’m in my pjs and aren’t going out with my mates; it makes my forehead look a hell of a lot better and less red!

    (PS I know this is a very old post/page but just wanted to share in case anyone came looking for ideas like me!) :)

  33. Miss Murder says:

    Concealer and a smile :D

  34. Maddy says:

    I often wear black. Yes, it wipes out all the colour that is supposed to be there, but it also wipes out some of the colour that isn’t supposed to be there.

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